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Mirrorshades and Mohawks (Beta)

I have a complicated relationship with Shadowrun. There is nothing cooler than rolling twenty dice at a time and scrying the results like tea leaves. The setting is an amazing mash-up of familiar concepts that can be worked into a wide variety of play-styles. I played the hell out of 4th and 5th edition. It was a lot of fun, but I always felt like I was having fun in spite of the rules instead of using them to facilitate fun. For me Shadowrun is at its best when you’re thinking on your feet, trying desperately to stay one step ahead of the bad guys, waist-deep in corporate conspiracies hatched straight out of a Weyland-Yutani boardroom. But as written, Shadowrun tends to favor a cycle of legwork-preparation-execution that can feel methodical and (at times) plodding. With an experienced group, that cycle can be a lot of fun as your knowledge of the game’s mechanics can come through, but in the last decade I’ve found that to be a rare state of flow.

Two years ago I was introduced to Blades in the Dark, a unique Powered by the Apocalypse game that offers a style of play that emulates heist fiction like Ocean’s Eleven or The Lies of Locke Lamora, and by god does it manage to pull that off. With a flashback mechanic, on-demand gear selection (oh of course I brought that tool!), and system of clocks to display just how close the players are to everything unraveling around them, it really encompasses the genre that it set out to homage. It immediately made me think of Shadowrun, and about how much more work Shadowrun was to prep and run.

So instead I brought Shadowrun to Blades.

This is not a unique idea

Now, there are more cyberpunk hacks for Blades than there are atoms in the universe. I don’t think I’m the only person who wanted to sand off all of the rough-edges of a normal Shadowrun game. Runners in the Shadows is a great example of this, but there are many more.

Unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of conversion rulesets. A lot of these hacks try to merge the mechanics of both systems together in some way, bringing in cybernetics for example, and I don’t care for that. In my perfect world, the switch from Blades’ default setting to a cyberpunk one would be mostly seamless, with maybe a page or two to effectively errata anything that needs to be. This attitude I think only fits my mental model because Blades is a fairly mechanics-light system anyways, so it’s easy to strip out certain rules or tweak existing ones.

Regardless this philosophy brought me to the core idea that any hack on Blades to support a cyberpunk game had to start with playbooks, and assume that 99% of Blades’ rules were applicable by default. If anything didn’t quite fit, it would be obvious as I was trying to come up with each playbooks’ mechanics.

Mirrorshades and Mohawks

I put together a set of playbooks for Blades with a distinctly cyberpunk flavor. The idea here was to provide a foundation to play within a cyberpunk setting, without adding new rules to the core game. I have made some core assumptions that are worth thinking about:

  1. Magic is concentrated within a single “Mystic” playbook. If a GM wants to play a non-magical cyberpunk game, then it’s easy to remove. If a player wants to play something like a technomancer, it’s easy to bring in one special ability from the Mystic playbook while running as a hacker.

  2. Cohorts are no longer a thing. Instead of running a gang, the default assumption is that you’ll be gaining and working with contacts that may owe you favors but certain don’t consider you their boss. You could run a game where all the characters are running a gang like the Halloweeners, but it’s not usually what I think of for the genre so I ommitted it from the character sheet.

Here’s a PDF of the playbooks

And here is the Affinity Publisher file